Connie Willis is one of my favorite writers of speculative fiction, and when I saw this book on the shelf at my library, I suddenly realized I hadn't read anything by her in far too long. Her books are unusual, intelligent, and hilarious with characters I quickly come to care about. This one won the Hugo Award for best novella in 2005, and somehow I'd never gotten around to reading it. Now I'm kicking myself for having waited so long!
Once again, this book is best read without knowing too much about it, so I will reveal only a few details from the beginning. Ned is a reporter for a newspaper called The Jaundiced Eye, a paper whose purpose is debunking fake psychics, mediums, and other such "spiritual" scams, and such things abound in Los Angeles, so there's a lot to write about. His unlikely partner (technically, employee) is Kildy, a drop-dead-gorgeous actress who has had enough of the Hollywood scene and has, for reasons Ned cannot begin to fathom, taken to working at the paper. And she does a marvelous job.
Kildy phones him up and asks him to accompany her to a very expensive ($750/ticket) spiritual seminar to see a medium. Why, he has no idea. Apparently he'll understand when he gets there. Kildy is right - what he sees at the seminar is astonishing, puzzling and just a bit unsettling. Ned, skeptic par excellence, needs to find out what is going on, and he won't stop until he gets to the truth of the matter.
I enjoyed every minute of this book, particularly its wit and sarcasm, quotations from and references to H.L. Mencken, the hard-boiled detective atmosphere, snappy dialog and memorable characters. It is a novella - only 97 pages, so it can easily be read in one sitting (and I was sorry that it ended too soon). For once the jacket flap didn't give away too much information, saying merely that it's "a tale of spiritualists, seances, skeptics, and a love that just might be able to rise above it all." If that sounds at all appealing to you, you will love this book as much as I did.
Inside Job by Connie Willis (Subterranean Press, 2005)
Also reviewed at:
Adventures in Reading
Bookshelves of Doom